This year, we split off webcomics and digital first series, as they are quite different beasts, and wanted to give both their moment to shine. Check out our inaugural coverage of this delivery system.
3. The Stone King
Kel McDonald and Tyler Crook’s “The Stone King” is the last sort of comic I’d expect to be a digital comic, everything about it is so organic. Aside from the panel borders themselves, there are no straight lines in the world of “The Stone King.” This is a world that isn’t confined by its cold digital presentation. You’re looking at the pages on a flat, digital screen, and yet each panel evokes genuine tactile textures. This is by no means the first digital comic to do this, and it won’t be the last, but I love these comics that come along and push boundaries of what we think a digital comic can be, or even make me forget I’m reading a digital comic at all. Instead, I’m simply in the world of the comic, racing after the lumbering Stone King, determined to climb up to its shoulders and harvest some of the healing moss. The world of “The Stone King” is completely free of digital technology, and yet a digital screen is our portal into it. The world conjured by McDonald’s writing and Crook’s art is the best kind of magic trick. ― Mark Tweedale
2. Jessica Jones
It has been a transitional kind of year over at Marvel with the departure of Brian Michael Bendis and the beginning of the reign of CB Cebulski. With that, a number of characters that Bendis has been shepherding since time immemorial (or I guess, you know, the last few years) have changed hands. Miles is going to the upcoming team of Saladin Ahmed and Javier Garron. Riri went to the fresh hands of Eve Ewing, Luciano Vecchio and co. And Jessica went to Kelly Thompson and Mattia De Iulis. And they ran with it.
The final issue of the Bendis/Gaydos run ended in March, In July, Marvel announced a new line of “Marvel Digital Original” comics, and stealth-dropped the first two chapters of this book on the same day as they had with “Cloak & Dagger” earlier in the year. Not only did that make this book eligible for this category, but it proved that Marvel has big ambitions with their digital content. Letting this book kick off the line shows how much confidence Marvel has in this creative team, and they nailed it.
With all that background: enter ‘Blind Spot.’ The first arc of this book continued both the overall feel and continuity from both of Jessica’s last two books: “Jessica Jones” and “Defenders.” We get Jessica, Luke and Dani being a family alongside Jessica and Luke as part of the overall larger, street-level community of NYC. The whole arc revolves around a former case of Jessica’s, a deadbeat boyfriend, and toxic masculinity. It felt both prescient and meaningful for 2018. It has Jessica doing detective work and also killing monsters with Elsa Bloodstone; all things that should be a part of an interconnected Marvel world. That’s to say nothing about De Iulis’s art, of which he does all of it, inking and coloring himself. It’s gorgeously digital, and looks like it belongs in a digital-first comic book. The facial expressions, especially Jessica’s in the beginning pages of every issue where she’s still in captivity, as well as the use of the “photographs” in panel to highlight Jessica’s detective mind at work are stunning. Marcio Takara and Rachelle Rosenberg who take over for chapter 6 in issue #3 (since every issue contains two full issues of work) also do great work, and this acts a great pivot to the next arc of this book coming in January. It also offers a helluva cliffhanger. Again, with that chapter especially, it’s amazing how grounded in current continuity the book is when Marvel could have easily gone the other way. Both current versions of She-Hulk and Odinson are present and Thompson’s cliffhanger draws on the ends of the Bendis/Gaydos’s run and Jessica’s fears for her life going forward. Also I can’t not give Martin Simmonds a shoutout on covers.Continued below
The cornerstone of the Marvel Digital Originals project, “Jessica Jones” is a hit. While bifurcating the street-level heroes of Marvel’s comic world to the MDO line (especially with the collapse of the Marvel Netflix world where they lived in live-action) is interesting, it nonetheless gives people an accessible entry in Marvel comics after seeing these characters show up in live-action. Thompson and De Iulis both offer a wonderful continuation of Jessica Jones’s story, and a fitting entry point for new comic readers who will no doubt be clamoring for more comics and using Wikipedia in that healthy, “I-have-to-know-more” kind of way and not the, “WTF is going on” way. I can’t wait til Jessica returns in January.- Kevin Gregory
1. Injustice 2
The first “Injustice” series caught everyone by surprise with how good it was, and it felt like DC was a little more than surprised as well—it went on for too long, the art was anything but consistent, and the quality definitely took a dip once Tom Taylor left. “Injustice 2” returned with Taylor back on writing duties, along with Bruno Redondo on art for the whole run. The result was definitely the best digital series of the year, and one of the best series of the year in general. Now that the world had been firmly established by the first series and games, Taylor focused on the characters’ interpersonal relationships while also telling a compelling story in its own right, independent of the game’s storyline.
Besides the narrative leading up to the events of the game, the series really delivered excellent smaller moments, and is a big reason it worked so well. Ma and Pa Kent talking about loving their son in spite of the heinous things he had done was a powerful, vulnerable moment. Their conflicting emotions were made completely clear on the page by Taylor’s dialogue and Redondo’s art. The book also featured the best comic book wedding in a year full of disappointing nuptials. Killer Croc and Orca’s romance was lovingly developed throughout the series with a payoff that was completely satisfying.
To cap it all off, the team released one of the best issues of the year, and an amazing study of the relationship between Bruce and Clark, in “Injustice 2” Annual #2. In what functions as an epilogue to the series, the creative team revisit some of the key events of the whole story while probing what makes Bruce and Clark’s relationship so special. It concludes with a one-sided heart to heart from Bruce, that really frames the whole series in a different light.- Justin Beeson
Brian: I must say, of all the categories we’ve tackled this year, this is the one of which I am most ignorant. I love the idea of companies taking some wilder/less popular ideas and giving them a digital first series to test the waters. I’ve heard very good things about these three series, and will try to rectify my ignorance by this time next year.
Matt: I’m also not too familiar with this branch of comics. Even when we were reading “Bombshells,” I’d just wait for the trades to come out. I’ve heard these are fun, that they’re given the chance to be fun. I think the bite-sized blip of story helps some of these stories keep it snappy and enjoyable.